VUCA! VUCA! …it's here to stay!

By Kenneth Lean

The signs of a time of intense difficulty or danger does not always arrive on a band wagon. In many cases it is as good as invisible, a phenomenon that is aggressively inevitable. Who ever thought that two aeroplanes crashing straight into the heart of New York would cause one of the greatest crises the world had seen in a long time? That resulted in an economic slump because of a build-up that the market couldn’t sustain. Similarly who would have ever imagined that the Lehman Brothers would spearhead the global financial crisis in the later stage of the turn of the millennium?  Further, the PIGS (Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain) crisis in 2011 and the various other crises that have crippled economies have spelt out the writing on the wall – nobody likes to learn when they are enjoying sky high success. Consequently, when a crisis hits its VUCA VUCA all the way.

Vulnerable, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous – spells out VUCA. It is at these VUCA times that the agility of leadership comes to play. The relevance of true leaders face the real test.

Vulnerable, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous – spells out VUCA.

In the mainframe computer days software upgrades took a decade to arrive, whereas to this moment as you read, every other minute there is a software update reminder on our electronic gadgets. The changes that happen from kicking of one’s shoes at the end of the day, to slipping the blazer back while heading to work –inevitably reminds me of the rapid change in technology. This tells me something more, that the time between two crises is fast shrinking than our software updates. Are the current day leaders ready for this?

The seven CEOs I met during the last fortnight had one concern in common. They said they had the plans but were unsure of having leaders who could execute those plans. They were unsure if their managers and leaders would be ready to keep pace of the speed they were setting. Very clearly, they were and are still seeking answers. In a recently conducted survey by Mercuri Urval on VUCA times some of these sentiments were strongly echoed by the respondents. Therefore, I tend to conclude that VUCA times are here to stay, BUT, I continue to reflect and seek answers for the type of leadership capability that this hour needs; simply because VUCA times arrive like seasons – they are cyclical, they are creative gate crashers.

Allow me to take you through what I feel needs to be checked upon:

  • Firstly, must dos in a process must be done. Leaders who make business plans without market research hurry to make money, but in the bargain risk the organisation’s stamina severely. There are enough and more examples in the industry for us to learn from, so let me spare you some time.
  • Secondly, the joyful proclamation of ‘good news’ as opposed to the shying away attitude when ‘bad times’ hit. The good news is always given by the CEO, but the communication of the bad news is delegated through managers and department heads to the employees.
  • Thirdly, that ability of a leader to sniff trouble and place the problem on the table pretending that it will all ‘tide over’. Though data does not lie, intuition has a sense of good and bad things – this must never be ignored. However, VUCA times can also be times of opportunities, of blessings. It cannot be ignored that the greatest opportunities and strongest relationships are built during these VUCA times. Innovation cannot get better than in times of uncertainty and ambiguity; to be able to innovate in a shoe string budget. Let us not forget that the greatest innovations came during the greatest constraints.

With this reality of VUCA times, it is necessary to most importantly pay heed to the context and circumstance of the crisis. The context of a crisis is usually not evaluated efficiently; and sometimes it is as good as not being evaluated at all. Many organisations are averse to the thought of dissecting the past, whether it has been good or bad. This aversion comes at a huge cost turning a blind eye to the most precious gems of knowledge that lay openly hidden in necessary drills of evaluation and learnings. If one could retrace the track to their fast growth before the crash, many organisations will avoid incurring losses that would even be impossible for poets to comprehend.

Robust thinking, agility, simplicity and the clarity of vision of a leader will even attract the distant shores to a sinking ship. Let us not overlook the fact that the one who delves into the context of any crisis might be better prepared for tomorrow’s VUCA day, simply because VUCA is here to stay.

  • Leadership